Orioles fans longing for the good old days will be given the rare chance to own a piece of them today, as the collection of former Sun artist Jim Hartzell goes on the auction block.
Any Oriole fan not familiar with the Hartzell bird probably is younger than 30. The grinning, cap-sporting Oriole was a staple of the team beginning on Opening Day 1954, the year the hapless St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the modern-day Orioles. From the start, Hartzell's bird appeared on game programs, schedules and just about everything else associated with the O's. Hartzell also drew the cover for the 1958 All-Star Game program - which, even though the game was played in Baltimore, didn't feature the Oriole bird.
Regardless, the feathered guy was hard to avoid for anyone growing up in these parts from the '50s through the '70s. The bird even appeared daily on the front page of The Sun, giving fans a one-glance assessment of the team's fortunes. If the oriole was smiling, the team had won; a frowning bird meant the bad guys had carried the day.
Hartzell retired from The Sun in 1979, after 49 years with the paper. Other artists, including The Sun's Ann Feild and The Evening Sun's Mike Lane, continued drawing a bird through the '89 season.
About 60 of Hartzell's original drawings will be included in the auction, which begins at 5 p.m. today at Richard Opfer Auctioneering, 1919 Greenspring Drive in Timonium. The collection can be viewed beginning at noon.
"The Oriole bird, of course, everybody around here knows that," says Peggy Bealefield, manager at Opfer's. "Orioles items always do well, but to have the original art from the original person, that's very unusual."
Hartzell, 92, recently moved into a Towson retirement community, which left him no room for the collection he'd been amassing at his home for more than half a century. "Sometimes you have to downsize, and I can tell you, it's a heck of a battle," he says. "You have to unload some of your best stuff."
Hartzell's collection isn't limited to his own art; there's also a lot of circus and railroad paraphernalia, a gum machine and many advertising and trade items.
Also up for bids will be original art from sports cartoonist Willard Mullin and former Sun editorial cartoonist Edmund Duffy, who won three Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure with the paper.
It's an eclectic collection, and Hartzell acknowledges it won't be easy to see it dispersed among the many bidders expected to show up today. But he's made his peace with his current circumstances.
"You reach a point," he says matter-of-factly. "My house was 52 years old, and through the years, you get a strong attachment. But I got over that."
Besides, Hartzell says, selling off the collection was easier than trying to distribute it evenly among his large family. "I thought the best way was to put it all out there," he says. "You can't take it all with you."